20 July 2017

Brie & Green Apple Flatbread

I had leftover brie and naan after making the "Berry & Balsamic Flabread" for July's Improv Cooking Challenge, so I thought I'd try another fruity flatbread, but this time I'd use apples. I happened to have an excess of green apples on hand -- bought them on a whim and have completely failed to eat them -- and I thought apples and brie would pair well together.


Despite becoming distracted by Kate Quinn's The Alice Network and over-baking the crust a bit, I thought this flatbread a worthwhile endeavor. It really is a great combination of textures and flavors and it goes together lickety-split, thus avoiding the impatient lunchtime hangries. (You also get the impatient lunchtime hangries, right? When you're so Oh.My.God.HUNGRY. that if you don't eat lunch ASAP you're going to go all Tasmanian Devil on people??)


Brie & Green Apple Flatbread

Yield: 1 small pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 small naan
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 oz brie, sliced thinly
  • 2 oz sliced cored green apple
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ oz baby arugula
  • Cider vinegar, as desired
  • Runny honey, as desired
  • Freshly cracked black pepper

Instructions

  1. Put your pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 400° F.
  2. Brush the naan with olive oil. Layer naan with brie and apples. Sprinkle w/ cinnamon.
  3. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the apple slices have softened.
  4. In a salad bowl, toss arugula with vinegar and honey.
  5. Scatter dressed arugula over the naan pizza and sprinkle with black pepper. Serve.

13 July 2017

Improv Cooking Challenge: Berries & Balsamic

July's Improv Challenge Cooking ingredients are the bright sweet-tart flavors of berries and balsamic. I decided to keep my dish simple and combined those with fresh herbs and cheese to make decidedly nontraditional pizza. I know warm cheese and berries might sound a little nope (The Husband would not eat this if it were the last thing left to eat on Earth), but it is a tasty savory-sweet combination I cannot get enough of.

A flatbread pizza requires cheese and I wanted to push the boat out, experience wise, and cook with something different. Generally, I'm a goat cheese or cheddar girl, with brief forays into the blues, so I thought I'd try Brie this time around. I'd eaten Brie before -- part of a cold mixed cheese platter with fruits and nuts -- and been underwhelmed by it, but I've read Brie is the "queen of cheeses" so maybe I should give it another try? Maybe, it would taste better warm?

And it did. Warm Brie, imho, is good. Cold Brie -- at least the unknown Brie I'd eaten before and the one I used in this flatbread -- are just kind of mushroomy and blech. But warm Brie ... warm Brie is soft, creamy yumminess. Especially paired with balsamic vinegar and sweet berries.

In short, this flatbread, with its great mix of flavors and textures, is absolutely delicious and so dead easy to put together that you could eat one every day.


Berry & Balsamic Flatbread

Yield: 1 small pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 small naan
  • 1 tsp garlic olive oil
  • ⅛ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 oz Brie, sliced
  • 3 oz mixed blueberries and blackberries
  • ½ oz baby arugula
  • ½ Tbsp blackberry balsamic vinegar
  • Freshly cracked black pepper

Instructions

  1. Put your pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 400° F.
  2. Brush the naan with olive oil and sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Layer naan with Brie and berries. Scatter with thyme.
  3. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the berries have softened.
  4. Scatter arugula over the naan pizza, drizzle balsamic vinegar over all, and sprinkle with black pepper. Serve.

If you don't have pizza stone, then just preheat your oven and prep and bake your flatbread on a baking sheet. For the longest time, I thought pizza stones were just pretentious tomfoolery for home cooks, but then I inherited one from my mom and ... homemade pizza is better on a pizza stone. And anything you might usually wrap in foil or parchment and bake on a sheet pan can be baked on a pizza stone. Also, a pizza stone bakes up beautifully crusty "artisanal" loaves. So it's multipurpose. And, since you can just leave it on the bottom rack of your oven all the time, don't worry about storage space ...


For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the second Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.




01 July 2017

A Pirate's Life for ... Peas?

When I planted the vegetable beds in May, I planted a row of "Little SnapPea Crunch" sugar snap peas -- a compact plant with self-supporting vines well-suited to containers -- with the expectation they would grow into a stout hedge of deliciousness. Alas, my peas were rambling peas. The plants grew up, yes, but then went wide, entangling the orderly rows of beets, lettuce, and bush beans I had planted alongside them.


I put up my pea fence -- the fence I expected to not need this year -- and tied them back. But. Wild and wily, they keep escaping the pea fence and are currently climbing down the side of their raised bed, dead set on conquering the neighboring tomato/pumpkin/pepper bed. I am both immensely amused by their feral liveliness and exhausted. Stay on your fence, peas. Stop trying to pirate the other beds.

You might think, with all that prolific growth, that the plants would have no energy or time to fruit. You would be wrong. Completely and utterly wrong. The snap pea harvest is in its heyday and I find I need to pick a cake pan's worth every day just to keep up. Harvesting the peas, of course, means the plants get busy making more and ... it's just a vicious, delicious cycle, isn't it?


Sugar snap peas, you are so fine. So delightfully crunchy and sweet straight from the vine. Plump little green crescents of joy. Just keep your tendrils out of the lawn, less the lawnmower get you.

29 June 2017

Easy Carrot & Bok Choy Stir-Fry

It's nearly time to pick up this week's CSA share and there's a limit to how much more stuff I can get in the fridge so ... time to cook with bok choy! I hadn't cooked with full-grown bok choy (aka pak choi) before, but I figured it couldn't be that different from cooking baby bok choy -- probably just more chopping.

I decided to keep the dish simple because it was my first time (so why complicate things) and (more importantly) I was making it in the ROAWR! HUNGRY time between gym and work, when the longer I delay eating, the more likely I am to abruptly consume a whole bunch of (ultimately unfulfilling) random and then be very, very cranky with myself.


So. Bok choy stir-fry. With matchstick carrots, because why not? And lots of alliums, because alliums make everything (savory) better.


Easy Carrot & Bok Choy Stir-Fry

Yield: 2 generous servings

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 oz chopped sweet onion
  • ½ oz chopped garlic
  • 2 garlic scapes, chopped
  • 4 oz matchstick-cut carrots
  • 1 tablespoon ginger paste
  • 1 large head bok choy, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp coconut aminos
  • Salt and red pepper flakes, as desired

Instructions

  • Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring often, until pan is very fragrant.
  • Add bok choy, carrots, and soy sauce. Cook, stirring often, until greens are wilted and stalks are crisp-tender.
  • Season to taste.


Because I knew a big bowl of stir-fried vegetables was not enough to satisfy the ROAWR! HUNGRIES, I topped my bowl with grilled shrimp skewers. I'd never grilled shrimp before (today was a day of new things!) but the Internets told me to grill them 4 minutes per side or until pink so that's what I did and they were quite delish. A wee bit too peppery as I was heavy-handed with the seasoning blend I used, but definitely something I'd make again.

Now I just need to sort out the kohlrabi. It's just so weird looking, though. Like a mutant Pikmin.

28 June 2017

Wordless Wednesday: At Walnut Hill Park Rose Garden






Roses in bloom at the Walnut Hill Park Rose Garden in New Britain. The Garden was first built in 1929 along Grand Street, but was relocated to the World War I Memorial when garden restoration began in 2009. Walnut Hill Park itself was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Sr.

26 June 2017

The Summer Before The War


Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (link to review) remains one of my favorite novels of all time, so it's a little surprising that it's take me this long to get around to her recent The Summer Before the War. To be fair, my thinking went: I was a little worried that TSBTW couldn't compare to MPLS and I would be disappointed and so if I never read TSBTW then I couldn't be disappointed, right?

Silly, silly woman. The Summer Before the War was an excellent read. One of those delightful books I want to press into the hands of everyone I know and inflict upon book clubs. I even (rather desperately) want someone to make a film adaptation Ć  la Merchant Ivory Productions.

It's sweet and witty and sad and just so fucking CHARMING. If you've ever wanted an Anne Shirley, Downtown Abbey, World War I mashup ... this is the book for you. Am I wrong to have imagined Beatrice Nash as a Friend of Anne? A well-educated, young teacher who believes in woman's equal place and making the world better through good(ish) works? Fiercely independent, eminently competent, and yet a little lonely and desperate for bosom companions?

Okay, so I WAS completely smitten with Beatrice. But it's the kind of novel full of interesting characters who are very difficult not to fall at least a little in love with. The only characters I can say I did not like were Mrs Fothergill, (an odious woman), the landlady (ditto) and the Professor (because SPOILERS, but trust me).

Lest you think this book is all sweet and gentle fluff, I will point out that quite a lot of it is about women's rights and class structure. Beatrice can't look after her inheritance, because she is an unmarried lady. She almost loses her job, because she is too attractive. She can't publish her fathers letters, because she is a woman and, therefore, has no authorial authority. Who she dines with, what books she reads, which students she gives extra help to, how much she spends on ladies' incidentals ... Beatrice is judged for all these things and one imprudent choice could cost her her living and place in society.

And then the war happens and so much changes. And so much doesn't. Because People.

I listened to The Summer Before the War on CD, read by Fiona Hardingham. Hardingham did an excellent job distinguishing between the different characters and classes, giving them each their own unique voice so that I was never confused about who was speaking. She also brought appropriate wit and emotion to every scene, giving the the story great immediacy. She made me laugh. She made me cry. She made me sit in my garage for an extra three minutes, because I couldn't bear to not hear just a little bit more.

Definitely recommended.

The Summer Before the War written by Helen Simonson & read by Fiona Hardingham (Random House Audio, 2016)

24 June 2017

Summer's Bounty Crustless Quiche

I signed up for my very first CSA and have been excitedly counting down to June 23, when I could pick up my first share. The farm I use provides quarter, half, and full share subscriptions. Because The Husband doesn't enjoy eating many vegetables, I went with a quarter-share which is intended to feed one person for a week. Well ...

I'm sure it does. Problem is, I also acquired a friend's full share from different farm, because she just couldn't get to it this week. It's a one-time thing and, while I'm truly thankful for all the extra produce, I'm also thankful I hadn't signed up for a half or full share because I'm a little overwhelmed as it is!



What was in my combined CSA?

  • 1 pint + 1 quart of strawberries
  • 1 large bunch of pak choi (bok choy)
  • 2 large bunches of kale
  • 1 kohlrabi
  • 1 large head of romaine
  • 1 large bunch baby spinach
  • 3 garlic scapes
  • 1 large bunch red radishes
  • 1 large bunch white radishes
  • 1 thyme plant
  • 2 ears of popcorn
  • 1 dozen cage-free eggs

It's ... a lot for us. Especially when I take into account all the produce already on hand! So I made a crustless quiche. They're simple enough to do and can easily adapt to incorporate pretty much any vegetables or cheese you like. Obviously, I used what I had on hand which included a partial bag of matchstick-cut carrots and a wrinkly bell pepper.


This is a very dense, very veggie quiche with the eggs there mostly as binder. If you prefer a more fluffy, eggy quiche then add more eggs. I like it just as it is -- a warm, cheesy slab of garden on a plate -- and it's a great way to get in some of your 5 (or 10!) a Day.


Summer's Bounty Crustless Quiche

Yield: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz red onion, chopped
  • ½ oz garlic cloves, chopped
  • 10 oz chopped kale
  • 3 oz matchstick-cut carrots
  • 6 oz bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 eggs
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 4 oz semisoft cheese (havarti, etc), cut into pea-sized cubes
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • 1 oz shredded Parmesan

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Oil 13X9 baking dish.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large French/Dutch oven at medium heat; cook and stir onion and garlic until garlic is fragrant. Add kale, carrots, peppers, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until kale is wilted and greatly reduced in volume. Spread across bottom of oiled baking dish.
  3. Whisk eggs and milk together in a bowl. Add cheese and egg mixture to baking dish. Gently mix everything together and top with sliced tomato. Scatter parmesan across top.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven until quiche is set in the middle and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool in dish for 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with fruit or dressed baby greens.

21 June 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Hydrangea macrophylla

Spotted this hydrangea at a local garden center
& really wish there was a place for it in my garden!

19 June 2017

The Girl Before


Clara is living a seemingly normal life with her husband and daughters on a beautiful rural estate when her home is invaded by masked gunmen and she discovers her life is built upon lies. Her husband and his family are human traffickers and Clara is one of their victims.

But Clara doesn't feel like a victim. Mama, Papa G, and Glen are the only family she's ever known -- or loved. If they are not Clara's family, if they do not love her, if they have lied to her with every breath for as far back as she can remember ... then who is she? And the beautiful daughters she has lovingly raised and prepared for their bright futures with Papa G's customers ... does that make Clara a monster, too?

While The Girl Before was not an easy read, it was certainly a compelling one. I enjoyed Olsen's choice to alternate between the past and present in a thoroughly non-chronological, but thematic way. This meant, of course, I had to pay attention to what I was reading and at a few points, had to flip back to an earlier section of the book, finally realizing how the bits knit together. This did not put me off in the least, as I was glued to the pages and finally finished this book in the wee small hours of a workday morning.

Admittedly, Clara's ... obtuseness ... was sometimes frustrating. Readers only know what Clara knows and what Clara knows is that she had a perfectly okay life before federal agents took her husband and daughters away. She's mourning, she's scared, and she's uncertain who to trust, so she clings to what she "knows." And thus, sometimes, I found myself shouting unsympathetic things like "your daughters are sex slaves, you stupid woman!" while Clara struggled to come to terms with both what had been done to her and what she had done to others.

Overall, an uncomfortable read, but a good one. I look forward to reading more by Rena Olsen.

The Girl Before by Rena Olsen (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2016)

14 June 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Iris & Peony

White iris in bloom against deep pink peonies.

10 June 2017

June Flowers

The world's best co-workers gave me a gift card to White Flower Farm when I left that library in late March and it has been burning a hole in my pocket ever since. I spent a little on two Nepeta “Little Titch” (I have a weakness for catmint) last month, but held back on any other purchases until I felt sure I knew what I wanted to do and wasn’t just going to go on a buying spree and then try to jam the plants into my beds, all higgledy-piggledy.


On my last Friday off, I ended back up at White Flower looking for more “Little Titch” to flank the lady’s mantle growing in the front bed -- the combination of pale lavender spikes against the fuzzy cupped leaves and chartreuse clusters seemed a good one -- but it was not to be. Undeterred, I settled for two “Limelight,” instead, which have a similar footprint to “Little Titch” but with brilliant lime-green foliage. I’ve planted the catmint in a checkerboard around the lady’s mantle and, in hindsight, it might be too much yellowy-green together ...


The pansy basket hanging off the side porch has been looking a bit sad of late so I moved it to the table on the back porch and replaced it with a fluffy strawberry shortcake of a hanging basket full of ruby and raspberry verbena, cherry blossom pink calibrachoa, and white lobelia. Smitten with that color combination, I added a planter of white bacopa, light pink calibrachoa, and burgundy verbena. They look lovely together and I may try a similar combination in the mailbox planter ...


08 June 2017

Improv Cooking Challenge: JalapeƱos & Cheese

After much indecisiveness, I decided to experiment with jalapeƱo and cheese corn muffins for June's Improv Cooking Challenge. Unfortunately, the first batch was nearly indelible -- astonishingly hot, much too dry, and a little tough. However, I tried again -- adding more liquid, reducing the amount of dried jalapeƱos, and stirring less -- and eventually arrived at a moderately zippy, tender muffin.


I used Cabot's Jalapeno Jack, a creamy cheese generously studded with fiery jalapeƱo pieces. It's a flavorful cheese, with plenty of spice, but doesn't set fire to the back of my throat. Really, though, any spicy semi-soft cheese you like will work in this recipe. Just as you should only cook with wine you like to drink, you shouldn't cook with cheese you don't want to surreptitiously nibble.

If you can't find plain kefir at your market, buttermilk or soured milk will work in a pinch. I used kefir simply because I almost always have a container of kefir in my fridge and running to the shop to purchase a container of buttermilk that would end up going off before I could use it up was just ... nope.



JalapeƱo Cheddar Corn Muffins

Yield: 12 muffins

Ingredients

  • 3 oz canola, plus extra for greasing the muffin tin
  • 5 oz white whole wheat flour
  • 5 oz cornmeal
  • ⅛ tsp mustard powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 oz pepper jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 Tbsp dried crushed jalapeƱos
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 9 oz plain low-fat kefir
  • 4 oz whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 12 pickled jalapeƱo slices

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 425°F. Brush a 12-hole muffin tin with neutral cooking oil.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, mustard powder, baking powder, cheese, crushed jalapeƱos, and salt.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the kefir, milk, oil, and eggs together.
  4. Fold the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture, working swiftly yet gently to avoid tough muffins.
  5. Divide the mix between the 12 oiled muffin wells (they will be quite full) and top each with a jalapeƱo slice. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean when tested.
  6. Cool 5 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Serve warm with whipped butter.

For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the second Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.





07 June 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Poppy (Papaver)

Hairy sepals slowly splitting to reveal a maturing poppy flower.

03 June 2017

The Gardens In Late Spring

On my days off I try to get out into the garden first thing and do some weeding and planting. The vegetable seeds and seedlings I planted in the new steel raised beds have made great start -- probably thanks to the superior garden soil and compost the deep beds are filled with, but possibly also due to them being much closer to the house and thus less likely to be pillaged by critters. My radishes are beautiful little ruby orbs, the pea plants are becoming properly bushy, and even the lettuce (something I never before tried from seed) is slooowly coming up. The tomato plants do look a bit sad, but it’s been a cool, grey, rainy spring so far and that's not really the weather tomatoes thrive in.


"Cherry Belle" radishes

Delicate baby oak leaf lettuce & friends

A few Saturdays ago, I attended a container gardening program at White Flower Farm in Litchfield and came home with a big pot of annuals that's now been hanging out on the porch, waiting (with the tomato plants) for a few sunny days. Like a fool, I tossed the pot markers, so now have no idea what some of the plants are called! Whatever they are, they are pretty.


The yellow, honeysuckle-like plant I can't name smells pleasantly minty.

The herb planter -- also a White Flower Farm project -- would probably look a bit more luxurious if I'd leave the rosemary alone for a time, but I keep pinching off bits to cook with and so the poor plant just keeps recovering old ground! Also, as with most things in the garden, it has just been TOO COLD AND WET for the poor thing.


Some day, the sun will come out and the rosemary will be happy.

31 May 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Tall Bearded Iris

I think this lovely Bearded Iris might be the Empress Eugenie. As always, completely taken with the fuzzy caterpillar-like beard.

29 May 2017

The Handmaid's Tale


The best kind of dystopian fiction is, for me, the kind that can convince me that world is possible and The Handmaid's Tale ... well, it hews too close to the truth for comfort these days. It is a bleak portrait of a future that seems far too real, given contemporary events. It helps that Atwood has told her story sparingly and quietly, with so much tension and drama simmering away at the edges, so that it's easy to interpret or suppose or assume things about the narrative and its relationship to the "real world." (Whatever that may mean in these days of alt-facts. Even on a good day, what is real and what is just what we're increasingly becoming used to?)

Format-wise, I really liked that the publisher had added a little music to the last 30 seconds or so of each disc, so that you knew the end was coming up, and that the last minute or so of each disc repeated at the beginning of the next. Maybe I listen to the wrong audio book publishers, but I don't encounter those features very often and that's a pity as they make the listening experience that much easier.

The Handmaid's Tale written by Margaret Atwood & read by Claire Danes (Brilliance Audio, 2014)

25 May 2017

Lazy Blackberry Almond Bars

I came home from work Monday night in the mood to bake something Right Then That Minute. Since I had a bag of sugar cookie mix and a punnet of fresh blackberries on hand, I decided to whip up a batch of my tried-and-true generally-husband-pleasing blackberry bars. These bars are based on Betty Crocker's "Raspberry Streusel Bars" recipe, but I've steadily tweaked it over the years until it has become what you see below.


You don't absolutely have to warm the preserves, but it spreads much more easily on the hot sugar cookie base if you do. Otherwise, I find bits of the base get pulled up and mixed into the preserves as I try to spread it around.


Lazy Blackberry Almond Bars

Yield: 25 bars

Ingredients

  • 1 pouch (1 lb 1.5 oz) Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
  • ⅓ cup butter, softened
  • 2 Tbsp white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground mace
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup seedless black raspberry preserves, warmed until slightly runny
  • ¼ blackberries
  • ¼ flaked almonds

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 8-inch square baking pan with foil and brush with canola oil or spritz with cooking spray.
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine cookie mix, butter, flour, almond extract, cinnamon, mace, and egg until a soft dough forms. Press half of the dough into the bottom of pan and bake 15 minutes.
  3. Spread warm preserves over cookie base. Sprinkle with blackberries.
  4. Mash remaining dough and almonds together with a pastry blender until crumbs form. Scatter over preserves and berries.
  5. Bake 20-25 minutes or until bars are golden brown.
  6. Cool completely then cut into bars and store in a tightly sealed container until needed. Baked bars will slowly soften, so eat within a day or two of baking.

24 May 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Foxglove


Because hairs on their speckled daybeds baffle the little bees,
foxgloves come out to advertise for rich bumbling hummers,
who crawl into their tunnels-of-delight with drunken ease
(see Darwin’s chapters on his foxglove summers)
plunging over heckles caked with sex-appealing stuff
to sip from every hooker its intoxicating liquor
and stop it propagating in a corner with itself.

     from "The Miracle of the Bees and the Foxgloves" by Anne Stevenson

18 May 2017

Simple Herb-Roasted Salmon

To celebrate my Mom's birthday, I took her to "Grow It, Cook It, Eat It" -- a workshop and luncheon at White Flower Farm in Litchfield. We listened to a short lecture on the use of various culinary herbs, then planted our own container kitchen herbs, and ate a delicious, herby vegetarian boxed lunch. Mom definitely enjoyed herself and so we're keeping an eye on the list of events, to see if there's something else we'd like to do together.

Anyway, as it's been a bit cool and rainy since then, the herbs I planted haven't grown much. The container is right by the front door, though, so I see them as I pass to and fro and I itch to use them ... and, well, what harm could a little bit taken here and there do?


Since I already had a salmon fillet in the refrigerator, I decided to roast it with a little of the fresh rosemary and thyme. I could just as easily have used fresh tarragon and lemon zest or fresh marjoram and dijon, but rosemary and thyme is a such a classic combination. It's fabulous with salmon, of course, but I’ve also used it with whitefish like cod and haddock.

This recipe makes two generous servings, but can easily serve three or four by scaling down the portion size. We were rather hungry after gardening so I cut the salmon fillet into larger portions than I usually would. Leftover salmon, should there be any, is very nice cold, on a bed of salad greens.


Simple Herb-Roasted Salmon

Yield: 2

Ingredients

  • 2 8-oz portions boned salmon fillet
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp minced fresh thyme
  • ½ Tbsp olive oil
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • ⅛ tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Brush a pie plate or baking dish with olive oil.
  3. Pat the salmon dry with a paper towel and place on the pie plate. If your salmon portions have a thin end, fold that under for more even cooking.
  4. Top with ingredients.
  5. Bake salmon, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily and has reached 145°F.

17 May 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Sweet Violets

The sweet violets have successfully seeded themselves through the garden and lawn ... this makes me very, very happy. Who needs grass when you can have violets?

15 May 2017

Far From Home


Rachel is a nice seems-to-be straight girl struggling with student loan debt, under-employment, and an eating disorder. On a whim (almost), she agrees to marry Pari, an equally nice lesbian who, while in the country legally, can't do the work she most desires under her current visa. Two years of marriage will help Pari get her green card and, in return, she will take care of Rachel's debts.

Okay. That sounds kind of improbable. And horrible. And dangerous. And, in the real world, Rachel and Pari's relationship would not work out, the USCIS would have no problem spotting marital fraud, Rachel would go to jail, and Pari would be deported.

But Lorelie Brown's Far From Home is a sweet, hopelessly upbeat and romantic work of fiction. Of course, Rachel and Pari fall in love and happily-ever-after the fuck out of the story. Yes, some readers will probably have to suspend a ridiculous amount of disbelief to enjoy Far From Home ... but I had no problem with it. It's a fictitious romance in a fictitious California in a fictitious America where Everything Will Turn Out All Right and, considering the very real and horrific deportation stories I keep reading, that's exactly what I needed.

Also, I should point out I have a great weakness for marriage-of-convenience HEA stories and I'm always on the look for sweet, tender LBTQ romance. Really, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I gobbled up Far From Home over the course of a rainy afternoon and then immediately went looking for more. Far From Home is a Belladonna Ink novel, sharing the same universe and a few characters as Brown's Take Me Home, but it is not necessary to read one in order to enjoy the other. However ... having read one, how could you not read the other? And wish then spend fruitless night wishing there were more?

Truly, I enjoyed this Far From Home so veryVERY much. While not without flaws, the story is still so sweet, poignant, and delicious that it is definitely going on my "Books To Reread When It Feels Like The End of The World" (wait that's every day, now, isn't it?) list.

Far From Home by Lorelie Brown (Riptide Publishing, 2016). Kindle Edition, Riptide Publishing, 2016.

11 May 2017

Taco Pizza

My parents still keep raving about the taco pizza they buy at their local pizzeria ... so much so that I decided to make my own as it doesn't appear on the menus of any of my local pizzerias and, while it sounds, fantastic, I'm not desperate to drive 90 minutes for a pizza. (Yes, I know I could visit my parents and enjoy their favorite pizza at the same time).


Ingredients:
  • prepared mini pizza crusts (feeling lazy)
  • taco sauce
  • ground beef cooked with Penzeys Arizona Dreaming seasoning blend
  • shredded "pizza cheese" blend
  • chopped red onion
  • chopped, pitted black olives
  • chopped romaine
  • chopped cherry tomatoes
  • guacamole drizzle (guacamole mixed with red wine vinegar and olive oil to make a vinaigrette)

There were meant to be crushed tortilla chips, too, but I forgot about them in my hurry to get pizza in my mouth.

How was it? While a bit messy -- definitely a knife-and-fork pizza -- and probably not at all like my parents' favorite, we both enjoyed eating it and there were no leftovers. I'll be making this again.

08 May 2017

Behold the Dreamers


Jende and Neni Jonga want desperately to stay in America, to make something of themselves, and give their son a future he could not even dream of in Cameroon. But making those dreams come true is dependent on money and money depends on employment and employment depends on immigration status. And immigration status? That depends on who is asking the question. Jende wants to be aboveboard but he is trapped in a legal limbo while he waits for a decision from the USCIS regarding his petition for asylum status. Working as a driver for Clark Edwards, the seeming epitome of the American Dream, entangles Jendi and Neni in the Clark family's secrets and exposes the cracks behind the Dream's facade. This entanglement inevitably spurs several desperate acts, leading to a surprising, but realistically unavoidable, ending.


Behold the Dreamers is of those audio books you can’t stop listening to and find yourself idling extra long in parking lots, waiting for a "good place" to pause. Alas, there are no good places -- this is an audio book that deserves all of your attention, all of the time. Much of that is due to Mbue’s exemplary writing style and intricate story-telling skills, of course, but Onayemi's masterful reading deserves awards.

Behold the Dreamers written by Imbolo Mbue & read by Prentice Onayemi (Random House Audio, 2016)

03 May 2017

01 May 2017

American War


I finished American War well over a week ago now, but I still struggle to know what to say about it. It’s bleak and grim and dark. Full of rogue weaponized drones, catastrophic weather, (villainous) governments, and freedom fighters (terrorists). And yet there are small moments of beauty and humor amidst all the horror.

Ultimately, American War is a disquieting, uncomfortable novel. One of those novels the word “unputdownable” can honestly be applied to. Which doesn’t make this novel flawless -- there are, for example, points where the narrative is frustratingly meandering -- but it is too compelling a story for me to care too much about structural flaws.

El Akkad incorporates excerpts from news articles, memoirs, and official documents to fill out the story and provide context for Sarat's experiences -- I tend to enjoy fiction which employs that kind of epistolary conceit, so I ate those pages up and wanted more, because there is still so much of Sarat’s world I want to know (yet am afraid to know, because These Times Are Too Much Like Fiction).

American War takes place during the uneasy detente occurring after the catastrophic second American civil war. Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia have formed their own government (The Free Southern State), with North Carolina and Tennessee rather friendly to it, and South Carolina a quarantined zone controlled by the North. The Free Southern State is not well regarded by it's populace and there are a myriad of rebel factions clamoring for power within it. The South is gutted. Scarred. Angry. Prone to (self)destruction.

Growing up in this mess, first in mostly-drowned Louisiana and later in a displaced persons camp in Mississippi, is Sarat Chestnut. Curious, defiant, ignorant, and unfeminine (nice to see contemporary gender norms still hold sway), Sarat is eventually befriended by a mysterious, smooth-talking, and educated man who spoon feeds her the Story of the South -- a tasty, untanglable blend of fact and fiction that sets her on a dark path.

And I can’t say more because Spoilers. Just go yourself a copy of American War.



American War written by Omar El Akkad & read by Dion Graham (Random House Audio, 2017)

26 April 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Glory-of-the-snow

Chionodoxa, or glory-of-the-snow, in bloom. A happy little burst of blue.

24 April 2017

Favorite Poems & Poets: Joy Harjo

When I was an undergrad, I was lucky enough to hear Joy Harjo speak at my college. I was so moved by her words and use of language that I immediately went out and bought three of her poetry collections. Her poems are beautiful yet cryptic and, reading them, I always feel I am skimming the bare surface of meaning.

Today I'm sharing excerpts from two poems. The first is "The Woman Hanging From The Thirteenth Floor Window," a poem from She Had Some Horses. It's about a woman contemplating her life -- should she break loose and fall or climb back up and reclaim herself? The second is "Perhaps the World Ends Here," from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky. It's, ostensibly, a poem about a kitchen table but is also a big ol' metaphor for life.
"The Woman Hanging From The Thirteenth Floor Window"

She is the woman hanging from the 13th floor
window. Her hands are pressed white against the
concrete moulding of the tenement building. She
hangs from the 13th floor window in east Chicago,
with a swirl of birds over her head. They could
be a halo, or a storm of glass waiting to crush her.

She thinks she will be set free.
Please click here to read the rest of the poem.
"Perhaps the World Ends Here"

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
My extract doesn’t start at the poem's beginning nor does it end at the poem's end. Click here to read it in full.

And here's a (longish) video of Joy Harjo talking at the 2013 Chicago Humanities Festival about her family and other things:

20 April 2017

Improv Cooking Challenge: Banana & Coconut

It's that time again! The monthly "Improv Cooking Challenge"! April's focus ingredients were banana and coconut. While my peers have created impressive sweet and savory dishes, I have kept it simple and made fancy ... toast. (Fancy toast is a totally legitimate thing, you know. There are even whole cookbooks dedicated to it. I'm just being trendy. Right?)


This toast makes sweet, super-quick, and breakfast that will keep you going through the morning. It's important to use a well-toasted thick, hearty bread -- I used Silver Hills' high-fiber Sprouted Power Mack's Flax -- or it will be overwhelmed by the toppings and flop about when you try to pick it up. I mean ... I guess you could eat the toast with a knife and fork, but that kind-of defeats the purpose of toast, yes?



Fancy Toast

Yield: 1 or 2, depending on hunger

Ingredients

  • 2 slices hearty whole-grain bread, toasted as you like
  • 4 Tbsp soft, spreadable goat cheese [Vermont Creamery]
  • ½ half peeled banana, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp blueberries
  • 2 Tbsp unsweetened flaked coconut [Bob's Red Mill]
  • Honey, as needed
  • Cinnamon, as needed

Instructions

  • Spread toast with goat cheese.
  • Top with banana, blueberries, and coconut.
  • Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with cinnamon as desired.
  • Eat.

If you don't like goat cheese, ricotta or farmer's cheese would also work. And, obviously, pretty much any combination of fruits would be tasty!

For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.